An antidote to the cant and confusion of our times


A collection of articles by Fr George William Rutler provides a witty insight into the current crisis

Those who enjoy reading the shrewd and wise words of Fr George William Rutler, the Manhattan parish priest, author and essayist, will be glad of Calm in Chaos: Catholic Wisdom for Anxious Times (Ignatius Press/ Gracewing). A collection of his online articles of recent years, mainly from Crisis Magazine, they are informative, witty and perceptive as to the current state of the Church and society.

Rutler’s thesis is that Catholics who have any perspective on history as well as a sound grasp of their faith will not be rocked by the scandals involving the hierarchy or by society’s slide into moral anarchy. He writes in his robust fashion in “The Resurrection Difference”, “Our culture is becoming neo-pagan…riddled with neurosis, surrounded by the monuments of a civilization that is cracking up.”

His intention is not to spread doom and gloom but to remind readers of the essentials of their Faith, that the world is imperfect and that “The greatest change in history was a factual event in a tomb in Jerusalem when Tiberius was emperor”. That we must be critical of the false gods of the age is a given; Rutler has harsh words for the Democratic Party’s idol, former president Barack Obama, in his article “The Pity of Christ”, pointing to his “blasphemous prayer in Washing on April 26, 2013, “God bless Planned Parenthood” – which also happens to be the largest provider of abortions in the US.

There is also straight talking on Islam in “A River in Egypt: Denying the Undeniable”, when he observes that it encompasses “demagogues but also virtuous and worthy people imprisoned by a restricted vision of man, in a confection that demands submission to inherent contradictions.”

In “Telling the Truth” Rutler turns his critical sights on members of the Church: “Our generation, which has lost its Catholic confidence, has built no Chartres, has written no Divine Comedy…tends to think that the Day of Judgment will be a sensitivity session.” In “Translating the Mass”, he suggests soberly that priestly vocations “come in spite of epicene worship, demotic liturgy committees and flailing song leaders” and that when a celebrant at Mass “stops and says “This is not about me” you may be sure he thinks it may be about him”.

(I had personal experience of this at Sunday Mass in a strange parish recently, where the celebrant cut short the readings, omitted the Creed, left out the Offertory prayer and was clearly very annoyed when I went up to receive Communion on the tongue – I couldn’t easily kneel as there were no altar rails).

Rutler’s style, where irony constantly bubbles below the surface, does not conceal his own strong views as in his article, “The Curate’s Egg: A Reflection on Amoris Laetitia” when he observes drily, “The literary quality of Amoris Laetitia does not challenge the claim that the Authorized Version, or King James Bible, is the only successful work of art composed by a committee” or that “There are a lot of gongs clanging and cymbals clashing in the contradictions and redundancies of much of the exhortation’s diction.”

Those familiar with Fr Rutler’s prose style will know that he is no mere literary aesthete (his parish is in an area of New York known as “Hell’s Kitchen” as he likes to point out) but a man prepared to challenge the cant and confusion of official pronouncements both inside and outside the Church.